This may be the earliest dated picture of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception. This doctrine, which claimed the Virgin was conceived miraculously without taint of original sin, was controversial but enjoyed increasing popularity in the 15th century, becoming dogma in 1854. Although rejected by the Dominicans, the Franciscans supported it.

A standard format and symbolism developed for such pictures. The symbols derive from the Bible, including the Book of Revelation and The Song of Songs. Here, the Virgin's purity is symbolised by a lily in a pure crystal glass.

The painting, signed and dated 1492, comes from the Franciscan church of San Francesco, Pergola, central Italy.

Key facts

Artist
Artist dates
about 1430/5 - about 1494
Full title
The Immaculate Conception
Date made
1492
Medium and support
Egg on wood
Dimensions
194.3 x 93.3 cm
Inscription summary
Signed; Dated and inscribed
Acquisition credit
Bought, 1874
Inventory number
NG906
Location in Gallery